From progenitor Petrus Maes until today
Petrus Maes is – at least for now – the furthest ancestor of the directly paternal line, the Maes family. As I bump into the limits of historical material for this branch, it is time for a look at the family history of the Maes family line, with roots in Sint-Denijs (Zwevegem) and Wytschaete.
My genealogical research into the directly paternal line of the Maes family falters at Petrus Maes, my 6th great-grandfather. Petrus Maes is my so-called “brick wall”. I did not find his birth or baptism date in the parish records, or at least no convincing clues. Ditto for his wife Anthonia Du Pierre. Like many genealogists, I am stuck in a family line, in this case the direct paternal line.
I can hope for input from other genealogists via genealogy websites for a new breakthrough, or I can find a link later that will allow me to move forward. Now, by contrast, it’s time for an overview of the Maes family line.
- Petrus Maes (° circa 1634-1664 – † ?)
- Joannes Maes (° 17/2/1688, Sint-Denijs – † 1/4/1731 Zwevegem)
- Joannes Baptista Maes (° 13/4/1726, Sint-Denijs – † 29/3/1800, Zwevegem)
- Josephus Joannes Maes (° 28/11/1776, Zwevegem – † 3/2/1818, Zwevegem)
- Edouard Maes (° 7/8/1812, Zwevegem – † 16/2/1901, Wytschaete)
- Victor Emile Maes (° 14/9/1866, Wytschaete – † 4/1/1934, Wytschaete)
- Joseph Georges Antoine Corneille Maes (° 14/12/1905, Wytschaete – † 12/10/1982, Las Galletas, Tenerife, Can. Isl.)
- Gabriel Emile Etienne Maes
- Eva Maes
(2nd half of 17th century)
Petrus Maes and Anthonia Du Pierre are my 6th great-grandparents. Or my former great-grandparents. So we are 8 generations apart. About them, I know bitterly little. His birth, marriage and death dates are unknown to me.
Probably Petrus Maes is from the region around Zwevegem, although he does not seem to have been born in Zwevegem, nor in Sint-Denijs where he settled. In any case, there are many Maes’s to be found in the region! Moreover, it is not so easy to create a family tree of the Maes family when it is the 3rd most common name in Belgium (after Peeters at 1 and Janssens at 2).
I suspect that Anthonia Du Pierre (or Dupierre) is from northern France or northern Hainaut where there is a more numerous surname.
What do I know for certain?
Petrus Maes was married to Anthonia Du Pierre. They lived in Sint-Denijs, now a borough of Zwevegem in West Flanders, and had at least four children there.
- Anthonius Maes (° 1/7/1684, Sint-Denijs – ?)
- Philippus Genesius Maes (° 16/1/1686, Sint-Denijs – ?)
- Joannes Maes (° 17/2/1688, Sint-Denijs – † 1/4/1731 Zwevegem)
- Judoca Maes (° 12/12/1689, Sint-Denijs – ?)
It is Joannes Maes who continues our Maes family line in the neighbouring parish of Zwevegem.
St. Denis suffered greatly from religious strife, sieges and looting in the second half of the 16th century. In 1646-1647, St. Denis suffered looting by French and Spanish troops. Also in 1655-1659, French troops made the village unsafe, resulting in the demise of agriculture, disease and depopulation. Moreover, a plague epidemic prevailed in 1694. During the Nine Years’ War (1688-1697) a French defense line lay right through the village, with Fort Ter Klare as the main strategic point. Only after 1713 did peace return under Austrian rule.
Joannes Maes was born (as far as is known) the third of four children on Feb. 17, 1688, in St. Denis. At the age of 26, he married Marianna Vande Putte (or Maria Anna Vande Putte / Vandeputte), a village companion two years his senior, there on July 11, 1714. Together they settled in the neighboring parish of Zwevegem, where they had at least four children.
- Isabella Clara Maes (° 15/10/1720, Zwevegem – ?)
- Carolus Maximilianus Maes (° 16/8/1723, Zwevegem – ?)
- Joannes Baptista Maes (° 13/4/1726, Zwevegem – † 29/3/1800, Zwevegem)
- Laurentius Maes (° 24/3/1729, Zwevegem – † 3/8/1806, Zwevegem)
Joannes died at the age of barely 43, three years after the birth of their youngest child, on April 1, 1734 in Zwevegem. Marianna did not die until many years later, presumably at age 74 on July 1, 1761, also in Zwevegem. However, this date is not entirely certain due to non-closing or missing indications from sources, but that is another story.
It is possible that Joannes Maes had entered into a prior marriage, and it is more likely that Marianna remarried after Joannes’ untimely death, as a young widow with children.
Remarkably, after their marriage in 1714 and before the birth of Isabella Clara in 1720, no earlier children are known. Neither in the baptismal records of St. Denis nor in those of Zwevegem. Miscarriages, forgetfulness of the pastor, or absence of the father? Or births in yet other communities? Who knows.
In any case, it is their son Joannes Baptista Maes who continues our family line.
In the 18th century, Zwevegem experienced a period of recovery and relative prosperity during the Austrian rule (1713-1792/94). This manifests itself, among other things, in increased construction activity. A new rectory was erected around 1747. Several homesteads are also being rebuilt or remodeled.
Joannes Baptista Maes first saw the light of life on April 13, 1726 in Zwevegem. He was the third child of Joannes and Marianna Vande Putte. He had one sister and three brothers.
At the age of 2, Joannes Baptista lost his maternal grandfather, Joannes Vande Putte († 17/10/1728), whom he consequently had little or no knowledge of. Unfortunately, two years later, when Joannes Baptista was barely 4 years old, his father, Joannes Maes († 1/4/1731) also died.
Late marriage seems to be a tradition in the Maes family.
First marriage to Maria Anna De Cock – in Kortrijk
Late marriage does seem to be a tradition in the Maes family, as will be shown. Usually this had socioeconomic, historical (wars…) or family reasons, or a combination of these.
It was not until the age of 31 that Joannes Baptista Maes married. On April 6, 1758, he married 22-year-old Maria Anna De Cock, also from Zwevegem. Interestingly, they do not marry in Zwevegem, but in Kortrijk. Were they working in the emerging and thriving linen industry in Kortrijk at that time? When later their daughter Barbara Theresia married, both Joannes Baptista and Maria Anna were described in the marriage certificate as labourers. It is possible. Their stay in Kortrijk must have been short-lived, as they built their family in their native village of Zwevegem. Together they had six children there.
- Joannes Baptista Maes (° 7/7/1759, Zwevegem – † ?)
- Maria Anna Maes (° 6/7/1760, Zwevegem – † ?)
- Joannes Baptista Maes (° 16/11/1761, Zwevegem – † ?)
- Isabella Theresia Maes (° 28/1/1763, Zwevegem – † ?)
- Barbara Theresia Maes (° 9/12/1764, Zwevegem – † 20/2/1845, Kortrijk)
- Maria Francisca Maes (° 9/12/1764, Zwevegem – † 14/1/1765, Zwevegem)
Death is merciless
Joannes Baptista and Maria Anna most likely lost their first child Joannes Baptista circa 1759-1761 (since they also named their next son Joannes Baptista). A year after the birth of their daughter Maria Anna in 1761, Joannes Baptista’s mother died at the age of 74. On December 8, 1764, twins were born: Barbara Theresa and Maria Francisca. Sadly, Maria Francisca died barely a month year after birth. It is quite possible that this was a difficult delivery with complications, as Maria Anna also died a year after the twins were born, on March 29, 1800. She was 30 years old.
Second marriage to Maria Joanna Theresia Decraene
A young 40-year-old man with at least one young child, possibly four, Joannes Baptista Maes remarried that same year on July 29, 1766, to the then a much younger 23-year-old Maria Joanna Theresia Decraene in Zwevegem. She, too, was a fellow villager. Records indicate that during her lifetime she was employed as a farmer and later as a farm worker and spinster. It is possible that Joannes Baptista was also employed as a farmer, but later certainly as a workman.
Joannes Baptista Maes and Marie Joanna Theresia Decraene (or Jean-Baptiste Maes and Marie Thérèse Maes) had eight children together.
- Maria Francisca Maes (° 22/3/1768, Zwevegem – † ?)
- Joannes Baptista Maes (° 14/2/1771, Zwevegem – † ?)
- Petrus Joannes Maes (° 14/9/1773, Zwevegem – † 25/4/1824, Zwevegem)
- Josephus Joannes Maes (° 28/11/1776, Zwevegem – † 3/2/1818, Zwevegem)
- Maria Josepha Maes (° 17/2/1780, Zwevegem – † ?)
- Maria Catharina Maes(° 21/10/1783, Zwevegem – † 26/2/1785, Zwevegem)
- Maria Catharina Maes (° 4/2/1786, Zwevegem – † 14/2/1786, Zwevegem)
- Bernardus Franciscus Maes (° 13/8/1787, Zwevegem – † ?)
That is, Joannes Baptista was the father of as many as 14 children.
Prosperity and fate
Going by the deeds from the parish records, things seemed to be going well for the reconstituted Maes-Decraene family. The harvests succeeded again and the economy revived. Yet disaster struck again when their daughter Maria Catharina died in on Feb. 26, 1785. Their next daughter, whom they had again named Maria Catherina, also died almost exactly one year later, on Feb. 14, 1786. Joannes Baptista had another son the following year, at the age of 61: Bernardus Franciscus was born Aug. 13, 1787.
To my knowledge, of all his children, Joannes Baptista Maes managed to marry only Barbara Theresia Maes (from his first marriage, to Maria Anna De Cock), this one to Carolus Ludovicus Glorieux. The marriage of his daughter Barbara to Carolus took place in Bellegem on April 2, 1783. As a grandfather, he saw seven of their children born.
Jean Baptiste Maes (as noted on his death certificate) died on the 9th Germinal of the year 8 of the French Republic – or March 29, 1800 – at 11 a.m. at his home in Harelbeek Street in Zwevegem. He lived to be 74.
Crane Marie Decraene
Widow Marie Thérèse Decraene was 58 when her husband died, and continued to earn a living as an agricultural labourer and spinster. Marie Thérèse still experienced the marriage of her sons Joseph Jean (or Josephus Joannes) in 1806 and Pierre Jean (or Petrus Joannes) in 1811 and daughter Marie Josephe (or Maria Josepha) in 1812.
She did not remarry and died at nine in the evening on Oct. 12, 1815, at the home of her son Pierre Jean in Zwevegem. Her name lived on through her grandchildren: Marie Thérèse Maes (b. 1807 and b. 1810) and Barbe Thérèse Maes (b. 1815).
There had been a period of social and military peace in Zwevegem since 1713. Construction is in full swing and people are switching from wood to brick. The church was renovated and enlarged in 1776.
In the early 18th century, some hermits began to provide education in the community. There is already mention of a municipal teacher In 1775.
Josephus Joannes Maes was the tenth child (of fourteen) of Joannes Baptista Maes and fourth within the marriage of Joannes Baptista to Maria Joanna Theresia Decraene. He was born in Zwevegem on Nov. 28, 1776 around nine in the morning.
During his first year of life, he lost his two maternal grandparents: his grandmother Maria Jacoba Clarisse († 17/12/1777) and his grandfather Laurentius Decraene († 19/1/1778).
Josephus is 23 when his father Jean Baptiste dies in 1800 (or better in the year 8 of the French Republic).
Marriage to Marie Verheust
He too marries relatively late. A 29-year-old, Josephus Joannes Maes (or simply Joseph Maes) married fellow villager Maria Josepha Verheust on Jan. 22, 1806, in Zwevegem, where the Maes clan is still located. Maria Josepha Verheust is the first ancestor in the Maes line to write her own name down in the marriage certificate. Josephus indicates at that time that he cannot write.
Both were then working as day labourers. A day labourer was paid by the day as a labourer and worked in agriculture and horticulture. Thus, they had no permanent employment and therefore earned nothing when no work was available. Still, they and the family often depended on one farm, living within walking distance. In the case of Joseph and Marie, it is quite possible that they worked in the sugar beet crop that was being employed at that time. For short periods Josephus worked as a merchant or shopkeeper, but not so successfully, considering each time of short duration.
Joseph Jean Maes and Marie Josephe Verheust had five children together, all of whom were born in their permanent home in Zwevegem.
- Marie Thérèse Maes (° 23/1/1807, Zwevegem – † 22/2/1807, Zwevegem)
- Charles Louis Maes (° 8/2/1808, Zwevegem – † 4/4/1855, Ghent)
- Marie Thérèse Maes (° 15/5/1810, Zwevegem – † ?)
- Edouard Maes (° 7/8/1812, Zwevegem – † 16/2/1901, Wytschaete)
- Barbe Thérèse Maes (° 31/5/1815, Zwevegem – † ?)
Of their first child, Marie Thérèse, the couple quickly had to say goodbye. The child died when barely a month old. Their next daughter they again named Marie Thérèse (after grandmother Decraene). Whether that was her long life, I do not know and can only hope. I found no clues for now.
Beginning of the diaspora from Zwevegem?
In 1811 and 1812, Josephus Joannes Maes attended the weddings of his brother Pierre Jean, and his sister Marie Josephe, respectively. Pierre Jean Maes went to work as an animal and pig trader and continued to live in Zwevegem. Marie Josephe was employed as a spinster and settled in Avelgem. His half-sister Barbara Theresia had married much earlier, in 1783, and lived in Harelbeke.
Were these the first omens of the diaspora of the Maes family from Zwevegem?
Shortly after the birth of their last child in 1815, Barbe Thérèse, Josephus Joannes’ mother, died. Three years later, brother-in-law François Verheust came to report the death of Joseph Maes: he died on February 3, 1818, around ten o’clock in the evening, at his home in Zwevegem. He lived to be barely 41. He left four surviving young children and an equally young, 40-year-old wife.
Maria Josepha Verheust remarried on Nov. 6, 1822, to Petrus Joannes Decraene, 12 years younger, a weaver by profession, and had her last child on May 17, 1824, as a 46-year-old: Barbara Theresia Decraene. In 1837, she still attended the wedding of her son Charles Louis Maes, to Rosalia Bonnet, in Ghent. Finally, spinner Marie Josephe died at the age of 61 at her home in neighborhood Dorp in Zwevegem on May 12, 1839.
It is son Edouard Maes who continues our Maes family line.
In the second half of the 18th century, the road network was improved, and from 1765 the brick road between Kortrijk and Oudenaarde was constructed via Zwevegem.
At the beginning of the 19th century, under the impetus of Napoleon, who wanted to make the continent independent of the supply of colonial cane sugar, there was an increase in sugar beet cultivation.
Edouard Maes was born Aug. 7, 1812, in Zwevegem, the fourth of five children of Josephus Joannes Maes and Maria Josepha Verheust. His father Josephus was working as a merchant at the time, but would later return to work as a day labourer. His grandmother Marie Thérèse Decraene was still working as a spinster, but died when Edouard was 3 years old. He barely knew his father as well. When Edouard was 5 years old, in 1818, his father died at the age of 41.
Stepfather Pierre Jean Decraene
When his mother remarries Pierre Jean Decraene in 1822, Edouard gains a stepfather as a 10-year-old boy. Pierre Jean is a weaver by trade and it seems he taught Edouard the craft. At least as a 26-year-old, Edouard was working as a weaver when his mother Maria Josepha Verheust died in 1839.
A year after his mother’s second marriage, his other grandmother, on his mother’s side, Susanna Dubuisson, also died. After the death of his mother, neither parents nor grandparents are alive.
Because of the rural crisis between about 1835 and 1840, including potato crop failures in 1845, and the difficult transition to the new industrial economy, there was hunger in Zwevegem. This must have prompted brother Charles Louis and Edouard to seek fortune elsewhere. Charles Louis Maes had already migrated to Ghent by 1837, where he worked as a batten splitter. This was a cottage industry that involved splitting sawn tree trunks into thin slats, which served as the backing for plaster in ceilings and interior walls. Afterwards, he earned his living as a “regular” day labourer.
What exactly drew Edouard to Wytschaete, we have to guess.
The trek to Wytschaete
Edouard did not move to the city, but to the village of Wytschaete, now part of Heuvelland. This he did only after the death of his mother, that is, after 1839.
What exactly drew Edouard to Wytschaete, a West Flemish village near the French border and some 40 km from Zwevegem, we can only guess. Around 1845, a Roman coin treasure was found in Wytschaete containing 1,000 to 1,200 silver coins from the 3rd century AD. Was it this story that beckoned him here, as a would-be treasure hunter? Or was it the fertile and well-drained sandy loam and silt soils of Wytschaete that provided better opportunities for agriculture? And thus more employment? Did he wander from farm to farm to see if they could use his help? In any case, there was nothing or no one keeping him in Zwevegem anymore.
Work and love
Eventually went to work as a farm labourer for the Deknudt family of farmers, who had a farm in the hamlet of“Verbrande Molen” (“Burned Mill”), (which is now part of the municipality of Zillebeke). It was with agriculturist Ursula Apolonie Deknudt that Edouard married on July 11, 1849, in Wytschaete. He seems to keep the tradition of a late marriage alive: Edouard is almost 37 years old at the time (except for 3 weeks), Ursule is 26 at the time. Both signed the marriage certificate themselves, making Edouard the first Maes in our family line to be sufficiently literate to write.
From this generation on, we can partly rely on oral tradition within the Maes family. It is my grandfather, aunts and cousins of my father who could tell about this generation. Thus Marthe Maes (or Sister Anna in religious life), sisters Irène and Antoinette Maes, granddaughters of Edouard, were important indirect and direct sources. They, too, have since passed away, but their contributions to family history are noted in“La saga des Maes,” my father’s reference work that in turn was a starting point for my genealogical work.
A large family in Wytschaete
Edouard and Ursule settled in Schoolstraat number 5 in Wytschaete and were later able to buy a small piece of farmland at the end of Schoolstraat and a pasture at the end of Poperinge Street. School Street opens onto the village square – “the Plaetse”. The Wytschaete people who lived in this “section Place” were called the“Plaetsenaren”.
Together, Edouard Maes and Ursule Deknudt had ten children, all born in Wytschaete, four of whom did not reach adulthood.
- Pierre Antoine Maes (° 25/4/1850, Wytschaete – † 14/9/1854, Wytschaete)
- Marie Ernestine Maes (° 18/2/1852, Wytschaete – † 31/3/1897, Sint-Michiels, Bruges)
- Clémence Marie Maes (° 25/4/1854, Wytschaete – † 6/10/1935, Staden)
- Jules Antoine Maes (° 8/1/1856, Wytschaete – † 30/3/1938, Wytschaete)
- Ide Marie Maes (° 26/9/1857, Wytschaete – † 15/11/1858, Wytschaete)
- Ide Marie Maes (° 1/7/1859, Wytschaete – † 26/3/1940, Wytschaete)
- Marie Louise Maes (° 16/1/1861, Wytschaete – † 8/8/1871, Wytschaete)
- Marc Isidore Maes (° 15/10/1862, Wytschaete – † 15/12/1862, Wytschaete)
- Julie Marie Maes (° 29/2/1864, Wytschaete – † 2/8/1947, Staden)
- Victor Emile Maes (° 14/8/1866, Wytschaete – † 4/1/1934, Wytschaete)
Edouard Maes was reportedly a hard worker. After his marriage in 1849 to Ursule moet Edouard vrij snel een winkel opgezet hebben in Wytschaete. At the birth of their first child in 1850, Edouard Maes is listed as a shopkeeper. In this he proved quite successful, as he remained a shopkeeper until his death. Did he sell the vegetables and wares from the Deknudt farm?
A pious man
In addition, Edouard was an extremely religious man. His piety and love for Pope Pius IX led him to enlist in the Pontifical Zouaves, but when he applied, he was refused because of his too small stature. In 1872, he did not hesitate to make a New Year’s gift to Pope Pius IX of as much as fr. 2.00. Another anecdote is that his daughter Ida, who witnessed his death, saw him straighten up on his bed, already saying “God, father of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob” and then watched him die “ecstatically.”
Eventually a family with 6 children
Edouard and Ursule’s first child, Pierre Antoine Maes, was born on April 25, 1850. Sadly, after the birth of their third child, it would pass away in 1854 at the age of 4. In 1855, Edouard also lost his older brother Charles Louis Maes, who died in Ghent at the age of 47. On Nov. 15, 1858, Edouard and Ursule had to say goodbye to their fifth child, Ide Marie Maes, who was a mere one year old. Their next daughter, born July 1, 1859, they gave the same name. This second Ide Marie would reach a blessed age of 80.
Marc Isidore and Marie Louise Maes are the next children to lose Edouard and Ursule much too soon. Marc was barely 2 months old when he died on Dec. 15, 1862. Louise Marie died at age 10 of pulmonary tuberculosis on Aug. 8, 1871. She reportedly still made her solemn communion on her deathbed.
Purchase of house on School Street
Thanks to an inheritance received by daughter Clemence Maes after the death of a sick woman from a wealthy French family where she had worked as a governess for 20 years, Edouard was able to purchase the house they had been renting until then. This was the house at 5 School Street. It is quite possible that this took place in 1895. Local newspapers, both De Grensgalm and Le Journal d’Ypres, announce the public sale of the residence and gardener’s yard that was then being used by Miel Maes. Later, the expanding family also purchased the adjacent houses (School Street 7 and 9).
Entries into the convent
A man of faith, Edouard must have been proud of his daughter Julie, who once of age entered the convent at the Congregation of the Maricoles Sisters in Staden in 1884. Julie Maes’ religious name becomes Sister Gabrielle. She joins there Amelia Verheust (sister Constantia), Edouard’s cousin on his mother’s side, and is the first Maes to enter. This was followed afterwards by Julie’s sister, Clémence (or Clémentine) Maes in 1898, who became Sister Martha, and her niece Marthe Maes in 1928, who in turn became Sister Anna.
Marriage, grandchildren and funerals
None of Edouard’s children seem to feel called to family life, except Victor Emile. In 1891, elderly parents Edouard and Ursule celebrated the marriage of Victor Emile to Sylvie Vansteenkiste. Son Jules, a beloved and notorious village figure, would not marry until late in life. It is ultimately son Victor Emile Maes who will continue our Maes family line.
Thanks to the blessed age Edouard Maes reaches, he sees seven (out of 11) grandchildren born. Sadly, he also experienced the death of his first grandchild, Victor Joseph Marie, 6 months after his birth.
Daughter Marie Ernestine, about whom there was virtually no talk in the family and widely described as a “good girl,” died on March 31, 1897 in an “insane asylum” in St. Michiels, Bruges, and a week later, on April 9, 1897 his wife Ursula Deknudt died at the age of 74 in their home in Wytschaete.
prayer card Ursula Deknudt (° 9/2/1823 – † 9/4/1897) – Source: Maes family collection
Two years later, in 1899, he unfortunately also had to say goodbye to grandson Gérard Médard.
Edouard Maes himself died February 16, 1901 at his residence, School Straat 5 in Wytschaete. He lived to be 88 years old.
The first period of Belgian independence was marked by a severe rural crisis (circa 1835-1850). The potato crop failure in 1845 and the subsequent famine and epidemics, typhus in 1847-48 and cholera in 1848-49, as well as the difficult economic reconversion caused the population to grow slowly. In response, as in several other towns and cities in Flanders, weaving and lace schools are being established. In 1818, there was already a school for the poor in the municipality of Zwevegem. From the second half of the 19th century, there was an organized form of education.
Until the First World War, there were still five windmills in Wytschaete: the Castele or Kapellemolen (Poperinge Street), the Wambekemolen, on Blauwepoort Street, the Van de Vijveremolen on Messines Street, and the Spanbroekmolen with inn of the same name, on Spanbroekmolen Street.
In Wytschaete, the French girls’ boarding school of Les Soeurs Immaculées and the Godtschalk orphanage operated. Both would be completely destroyed during the war.
Victor Emile Maes is my great-grandfather. He was born Aug. 14, 1866, in Wytschaete, the youngest of ten children. He is a child of relatively elderly parents: father Edouard is 54 and mother Ursule 43 at the time of his birth. At that time, two brothers and a sister had already died. When he is almost 5, he loses a second sister, Marie Louise.
Victor Emile did well in school, as he continued his studies to become a teacher at the Torhout Normal School, where he attended boarding school. However, he discontinued his studies just one or two trimesters before the end. He reportedly felt sight too trapped in boarding school life. Did any other reasons come into play? It is unfortunately no longer possible to find out….
Upon his return, Victor Emile filled the role of church bailiff and sexton at St. Medardus Church in Wytschaete. He rang the church bells, played the organ and accompanied liturgical services. This was not a full-time job. He supplemented this job with chores as a day labourer. He worked here and there as a gardener and cultivated his own patch of land. As a gardener, Victor Emile specialized in pruning and caring for fruit trees.
Marriage and eleven children
On November 18, 1891, Victor Emile Maes – then 25 years old – married 21-year-old Sylvie Vansteenkiste, a girl from a family of poor tenant farmers. Sylvie was also born and raised in Wytschaete, but worked as a maid in Voormezele, where she probably lived. The marriage certificate tells us that at least she was domiciled there. After their marriage, she went to work as a seamstress, which she continued to do until 1895, until the large family demanded all her attention and energy. Miel continued to work as an agricultural labourer.
The only Maes with a family
Victor Emile Maes – or Miel Maes – may have been the only Maes from his generation to start a family and continue the family line, but with his family, the Maes family quickly expanded quite a bit. He and Sylvie Vansteenkiste had no fewer than 11 children together. Unfortunately, three died in infancy.
- Victor Joseph Marie Maes (° 26/11/1892, Wytschaete – † 5/6/1893, Wytschaete)
- Victor Edouard Marie Maes (° 31/12/1893, Wytschaete – † 16/7/1966, Bruges)
- Marie Rosalie Julienne Maes (° 24/4/1895, Wytschaete – † 5/5/1971, Ypres)
- Antoine Léon Gerard Maes (° 19/4/1896, Wytschaete – † 15/6/1951, Wytschaete)
- Gérard Médard Joseph Maes (° 14/10/1898, Wytschaete – † 22/1/1899, Wytschaete)
- Godelieve Maes (° 11/12/1899, Wytschaete – † 15/7/1982, Limelette)
- Marthe Cornélie Maes (° 15/7/1902, Wijtschate – † 29/3/1988, Staden)
- Albéric Joseph Corneille Maes (° 23/7/1903, Wytschaete – † 21/10/1974, Ypres)
- Gabriel Médard Joseph Maes (° 7/11/1904, Wytschaete – † 31/10/1905, Wytschaete)
- Joseph Georges Antoine Corneille Maes (° 14/12/1905, Wytschaete – † 12/10/1982, Las Galletas (Canary Islands))
- Georges Gabriel Corneille Maes (° 28/12/1906, Wytschaete – † 18/1/1970, Poperinge)
The first child of Victor Emile Maes and Sylvie Vansteenkiste, being Victor Joseph Marie, was born in November 1892, but died six months after birth. Their second child they again named Victor, full Victor Edouard Marie. Later, Victor Emile and Sylvie also had to say goodbye too soon to sons Gérard Médard Joseph, who died three months after birth in 1899, and Gabriel Médard Joseph in 1905 who died 11 months after birth. It seems like it would be better not to name your child Médard.
Loss of sister and mother in same year
In 1897, Victor Emile was then 30 years old, his eldest sister, Marie Ernestine Maes, and his mother Ursule Deknudt successively died.
Sneaking into the convent
The year after the death of his sister and mother, in 1898, his sister Clémence Maes entered the convent of the Maricoles Sisters in Staden. Funnily enough, this is done secretly. Despite father Edouard’s great piety, the latter had preferred to see her marry to start a family and had often pushed her in that direction. Perhaps to contribute to the family budget? With the excuse of going to take care of the sick superior, she moved to the convent to stay there until her death. His father was forced to accept it. He finally died in 1901.
The family business
After the death of his father, Victor Emile Maes takes over his parents’ store, which is then baptized‘E. Maes – Vansteenkiste‘. Among other things, he sells vegetable and flower seeds there at a “very gracious price,” as he advertises.
After the birth of their son Georges in December 1906, Sylvie Vansteenkiste did not recover. She died three months later, on March 11, 1907. This woman, who had devoted herself entirely to husband and children, had given birth to 11 children in 15 years. She lived to be 37.
Victor Emile Maes was 40 years old when his wife died, and from then on was on his own with 8 children: the oldest was then 13 years old and the youngest 3 months.
Books and music
According to all who knew him, Victor Emile exuded a discreet but certain intellectuality. He was a studious man, had an inquiring mind and a love of reading. Miel was also a musician: in addition to the organ, he played piano and violin. He also wrote his own music and lyrics. He passed on his love of music to his children, whom he taught to play the violin, mandolin and flute. Victor Emile was widely respected.
The Great War (1914-1918)
When the German soldiers invaded Belgium on Aug. 4, 1914, emotions ran high, but no one in the Westhoek had imagined that they would soon witness the apocalypse. The region had nothing of military significance, no fortress, no large cities, … A month later, the conflict broke out and German soldiers advanced. The first uhlans were spotted in the region. People started fleeing to safer places. Fortunately, French and the British troops, including the London Scottish, were already spotted, giving courage to the residents.
Forced to flee
Did the Maes family leave by then or did they put it off until Nov. 1 when the Germans took Wytschaete and Messines? During two days of severe fighting on Oct. 31 and Nov. 1, Wytschaete was destroyed and was ablaze. All the inhabitants were forced to flee. Wytschaete found itself in the middle of the battle line.
The Maes family first fled to De Klijte, where they joined other families from villages already taken. The hamlet on Kemmel Mountain housed almost the entire surrounding area, as best it could. All the houses, barns, even pigsties were filled with fleeing families. With winter approaching, those who could fled to France, where they could rely on a network for aid and housing, supported by the French government and the Belgian in exile. Those who wanted to stay at all costs, including the Maes family, sought livable lodging nearby. The Maes family settled in Watou.
Victor Emile Maes and his two oldest sons Victor Edouard and Antoine, along with other refugees in the region, were put to work from day to day by the British digging trenches for them. Because this did involve a real danger of enemy fire, his sons convinced him not to expose himself to such risk as head of the family.
‘Volontaire de guerre’
Both sons Victor Edouard and Antoine Maes volunteered for the war in 1914. They were 20 and 18 years old at the time. Victor had previously been called up for military service in 1912, but was exempted the following year for medical reasons. Antoine had not yet had the opportunity to fulfill his army service. Both went to the front with only limited war volunteer training. These guys may have been patriotic, but voluntarism is best taken with a grain of salt. Many boys were coerced under light or heavy duress by recruitment offices to sign up. Perhaps Victor and Antoine also wanted to ease the Maes family’s dire circumstances for their father, who had to feed two mouths less as a result.
With the two boys at the front on the Yser, 48-year-old Victor Emile and the remaining six children moved deeper into France in early July 1915. Indeed, it was also becoming too dangerous in the border village of Watou, partly because of the air raids.
Maes family scattered throughout France
Saint-Ouen and Fontenay-aux-Roses
His sisters Clémence and Julie, or Sister Martha, and Sister Gabrielle, along with the entire congregation of Maricolous Sisters also fled from Staden just before the destruction of their convent and school. After wandering, the sisters eventually ended up in Saint-Ouen, north of Paris, and then in Fontenay-aux-Roses , where they taught in a Belgian school colony for refugee children. As their establishments were bombed again and again, the children were taken to Brittany with the sisters.
Sister Ida was employed by a Belgian dignitary in Lésigny in Seine-et-Marne.
Beauvais, Saint-Lucien, Chevilly-Larue, Les Mées and Rouen
Victor Emile Maes moved with his family to Beauvais, 52 rue de Calais, where he remained until 1919. He worked there as a gardener at the Normal School there, where daughters Godelieve (15) and Marthe (13) could work in the kitchen. Afterwards as an assistant cantoneer. The children were scattered all over France.
The youngest children, Joseph and Georges, stayed in a school colony, first at Chevilly-Larue in Val-de-Marne and from the spring of 1818 at Les Mées in Provence. Albéric (12) did not join the colony. His father placed him with a farmer he knew, Jules Vandoolaeghe, where he could work as a farmhand in anticipation of going to work as a baker’s apprentice at Saint-Lucien near Beauvais. Marthe resided in the colony of the Maricoline Sisters, under the care of her two aunts Marie, who until then had taken care of the household after losing the mother in March 1907. She went to “serve” at a family in Rouen. Godelieve went to work for a Belgian notary in Beauvais until the end of the war and was the only one left in Beauvais with Victor Emile.
Brother Jules left Belgium quite late and would have made it as far as Spain, although not much credence was given to this in the family, and would have worked in a paper factory there.
Wytschaete wiped off the map
The great Battle of Messines of June 7, 1917 put the entire Messines area in an uproar. In this operation, what remained of Wytschaete was shot down. The village was completely wiped off the map. Antoine who had followed the event from the Rodeberg in Westouter was greatly affected when he found his village unrecognizable. His mother’s grave was untraceable. The cemetery was in tatters.
A hearth of one’s own is man’s worth.Antoine Maes (1919)
After demobilization, in August 1919, Emile and Godelieve returned from France and met Antoine and Victor, who would soon be granted indefinite leave. Overjoyed that they still had each other and that they could return together to their native village of Wytschaete, though they knew full well that as the first returnees they would find little recognizable. Hard labour awaited them to rebuild everything, in that desolate desert, so far from everyone. And yet they couldn’t believe their luck. They were able to go home. “A hearth of one’s own is man’s worth,” Antoine wrote is his diary.
Reconstruction of Wytschaete
The Maes family was the first to return to Wytschaete. In the destroyed village, they built a barracks back in 1919. Brothers Victor and Antoine emerged as contractors and masons, respectively, during the busy reconstruction period. Together with contractors and other returning families, they rebuilt Wytschaete. Brick by brick, with recovered material from the trenches and shelters. They also managed to provide clear water to the village by recovering the stone wells with groundwater.
We can hardly imagine it. You just have to do it. Sand in summer, sludge in winter. Unburied corpses and horse carcasses everywhere. Countless craters from mine strikes, barbed wire, ammunition, exploded or unexploded shells, …
There was talk of leaving the vandalized Wytschaete as it was and operating it as a sort of memorial or open-air museum. The Maes’s didn’t want to hear anything about it.
In his capacity as unofficial mayor, later as town councilor and alderman, Victor Emile Maes wrote to the government, and especially Baron Empain, so that the Wytschaete people could benefit from reconstruction grants, submit war damage claims, obtain the necessary permits, etc.
Again marriages and births
Gradually, each could build his own personal life. In 1921, son Antoine married Marie Doheyn and daughter Marie married Alphonse Lewyllie, both in Wytschaete. Their children, his first grandchildren, were still born in the barracks: Irène (1922) and Andrea Maes (1923), André (1922) and Marcel Lewyllie (1923).
In 1928, as a 25-year-old, daughter Marthe entered the convent of the Maricoline Sisters in Staden, with her aunts and the other well-known sisters who had accompanied her during the war in the colony in France.
Son Albéric married Jeanne Duhez in Lille in 1930 and daughter Godelieve married Michel Orciuolo in Lambersart in northern France in 1931.
The marriage of Joseph, my grandfather, to Etiennette Aymoz in 1940 Victor Emile did not live to see it.
The eldest and the youngest son remained, perhaps deliberately, single: Victor and Georges.
During the 1930s, the temporary barracks were gradually replaced or supplemented by sturdy houses. Electricity was not installed until 1941. Water was pumped from the well. (Tap water would not get there until the 1960s.)
The medals remained in the drawer
Although everyone tried to rebuild a new life for themselves, the war had greatly scarred everyone in the area. For sons and ‘war volunteers’ Victor and Antoine the word “scarred” covers anything but. The tragic experiences of the war had also shattered their later lives, both physically and mentally. Victor had been a machine gunner and still trembled often. He still endured panic fears, often heightened by alcohol, and had terrible nightmares. Antoine had persistent lung problems and frequent asthma attacks. The war was not talked about afterwards with the next generation. “You must keep quiet about it, because you don’t know, you can’t know what that was,” said Antoine Maes. The medals remained in the drawer.
This generation is so intertwined with the history of World War I that the description of their lives is at once a historical sketch of this time.
Emile never remarried again. He is said to have intended to at some point, but refrained under pressure from his children. He did continue to see the woman in question, which was not to the liking of the clergy at the time. They said the “extramarital” relationship was incompatible with his prominent role within the parish of St. Medard. He fell from grace and was relieved of all his parochial functions, to which he was so attached. This felt like a painful affront and humiliation. A denial of his years of commitment. An intricate section of his life in Wytschaete.
Death in 1934
Victor Emile Maes died at the age of 67 on Jan. 4, 1934, in Wytschaete. He had endured many trials: the death of three young children, the early death of his wife and that terrible war that shattered his family. Yet he was not a bitter or broken man. He had put his heart and soul, as well as physical strength, into rebuilding his beloved village after the war.
This generation is so intertwined with the history of World War I that the description of their lives is at once a historical sketch of this time.
World War I would turn the entire community upside down. In World War I, Wijtschate (Wytschaete – White Sheet) was hit hard. It began with the heavy shelling on Oct. 31, 1914. The Germans were on the east side of Wytschaete – on October 31, the “London Scottish” came to Wytschaete from Ypres. They passed on the west side of Wytschaete and took up positions along the hill of Hell. They took up positions east of the Wytschaete-Mesen (Messines) road. The London Scottish suffered heavy losses and were withdrawn during the night. Especially during the 1917 Battle of Messines, the region suffered greatly.
Here we have come to my grandparents on my father’s side, Joseph Maes and Etiennette Aymoz. It is the first generation of this line that I myself have known. I have fond memories of the first one, albeit limited, considering I was 8 years old when my grandfather died. Not of the second one.
Joseph Georges Antoine Corneille Maes – the only one in the family with four first names – was born in Wytschaete on Dec. 14, 1905, the tenth and penultimate child of Victor Emile Maes and Sylvie Vansteenkiste. Three brothers had already died by then. Joseph is still a one-year-old baby when he loses his mother, who dies shortly after the birth of his younger brother Georges.
World War I
When war broke out in the summer of 1914, Joseph was only 8 years old. His two oldest brothers joined the army at the front, while he and father Victor Emile and the family eventually fled to France. Joseph and his Georges, were taken to a school colony. First at Chevilly-Larue in Val-de-Marne and from the spring of 1818 at Les Mées in Provence. My grandfather kept fond memories of this period, which lasted a little longer until almost a year after the war. Later in his life, he would enjoy returning to this region, the “Basses-Alpes,” several times, about which this nevertheless quite reserved man could talk passionately.
During the war, on Aug. 1, 1917, his maternal grandfather Leonard Vansteenkiste died in Strazeele, northern France, where he was in exile at the time. He lived to be 88 years old.
Together with his brother Georges, Joseph finished school in the school colony that had been repatriated in the meantime, in Wulvergem. Playing outside back then was a dangerous undertaking because of the countless unexploded explosives. Hence, their playground was restricted to a bounded area.
A job not without danger
Joseph or “Jef” Maes apprenticed as a locksmith and later worked as such for several years. Sometime between 1930 and 1940 (after brother Albéric’s marriage and before his own) he worked for a long time in France as an ironworker, even briefly during the war for the Germans, at Merville airport in northern France, some 30 km from Wytschaete. This was not a job without danger, as Joseph fell from an 18-meter high scaffold, from which he still had not fully recovered ten years later. He underwent a delicate operation on his spine (in 1948?) in Roulers, followed by a long period of rehabilitation.
Meeting in Lille, wedding in Wytschaete
It was reportedly at a café in Lille, where Joseph Maes had a room to spend the night after his work on yards, where he met Etiennette Aymoz. She was then at most 20 years old, he 34. Etiennette was a Frenchwoman born in Clichy against Paris and had a difficult childhood behind her. By 1940 she was probably living in Lille with, or near, her mother, who had settled in Lille since her husband’s divorce in 1929. Great was the surprise of the Maes family when Etiennette arrived in Wytschaete with the message, “Je suis la fiancée de Joseph.” (“I am Joseph’s fiancée”) Jef has a fiancée. Joseph was equally surprised. She was there to stay. Joseph and Etiennette married just before World War II broke out on May 10, 1940, in Wytschaete.
World War II
Joseph Maes and Etiennette Aymoz had two children together, my father and my aunt, both born in Wytschaete during World War II:
- Gabriël Maes
- Martha (“Mathy”) Maes (° 28/7/1943, Wytschaete – † 3/11/2021, Brussels)
The severe food shortages or restrictions during the war, especially in winter, were challenging to say the least and affected the growth of many newborns and children.
During and after World War II, Joseph often worked far away from home in all corners of the country, as there was not enough work in the Westhoek at that time for all the inhabitants of the region. They were jobs in harsh conditions and long days. In the morning at 5 or 6 a.m. – sometimes even earlier – he and his workmates left in a van or by train for a construction site somewhere in the country. And then there was that long pause of rehabilitation after his surgery in 1948, due to his work accident. As it happens, the family left Wytschaete in 1953 and ended up in Haine-Saint-Pierre near La Louvière, where Joseph found a well-paying and stable job. He was able to work there as a welder.
For the last 15 years of his active professional life, Joseph took back the profession of ironworking.
Out of Wytschaete
It is because of the move to Wallonia that the“uprooting” from Wytschaete of this Maes line begins, and the diaspora continues. Both children, Gabriël and Martha, will no longer settle in Wytschaete, nor will the grandchildren (my sister and I). The bond remains, but fades with each deceased Maes descendant.
Unfortunately, the marriage of Joseph Maes and Etiennette Aymoz was anything but happy. Without going into details, we can say that Joseph may have been glad that he was barely at home and that Gabriel went to boarding school and later to college, on digs. Martha had to endure the hellish atmosphere at home for the longest time until, as a 16-year-old, she was kicked out by her mother and moved to Brussels. Joseph himself was also later evicted from the house overnight, in the summer or fall of 1967, with a surreal, Machiavellian excuse by Etiennette.
Peace in Messines
Joseph was initially able to stay with his sister Godelieve in Limelette in 1967. As soon as possible, he settled in a cottage in Marchienne-au-Pont, then briefly in Borgerhout, finally settling permanently in Messines (Messines) in 1973. It is there that he was able to enjoy his old age: maintaining a large vegetable garden (or “lochting”) and reading books.
It is so that I remember him, in his modest house without any luxuries, where obusses on the mantel served as flower vases. A garden where he grew potatoes, leeks, lettuce, rhubarb, etc., and with two large plum trees. At the end of the summer, he made plum jam and rhubarb marmalade, of which we each received several jars to take home. It is probably because of our summer visits in Messines or our summer meetings at the “cabane” of “tant’Irène”, together with Antoinette, Laura, … in Koksijde, that my sister and I called him“godfather summer”. By others, he was simply called Jef or Uncle Jef. It is he who taught me to play checkers when I was maybe 6 or 7 years old.
Dying in paradise
In the summer or fall, Joseph Maes liked to travel to Tenerife to hike in what seemed like paradise to him. It was in 1982, on Oct. 12, that he suddenly died there. He fell off a rock into the sea there. Presumably he suffered another brain thrombosis, of which he had been a previous victim. Local fishermen saw the accident happen, but their rescue efforts were in vain. Even though it was a grim accident, it has something beautiful to me that he died in his paradise.
My grandmother, Etiennette Aymoz, continued to live in the “conjugal home” in Haine-Saint-Pierre. After a fall, she was hospitalized in Jolimont, La Louvière, where she died shortly thereafter on Sept. 14, 1998.
Since the following is about people who are still alive, out of respect for everyone’s privacy, I will be brief in my story from here on out.
Gabriël Maes and Myriam Dreissen had two children after their marriage:
- Eva Maes (me)
- Liesbet Maes
The marriage did not last. Both got married again later in life. Gabriel Maes is still living happily with his wife Marie-Thérèse (Trees) Poppe.
Gabriel’s sister Martha Maes, or Mathy as she wanted to be called, married Maurice Zigrand in Brussels. I remember being waved to us on the balcony of the Brussels Town Hall in the Grand Place, as if we were “royalty”.
She died Nov. 3, 2021, after an admirable, almost stubborn fight against cancer.
‘Extinction’ of our Maes family line
My sister and I each had two beautiful children, not named Maes. The mother’s name, in our case “Maes,” could not be passed down, although nowadays it can be. The Maes genes, on the other hand, we did pass on.
- Wanda Vandeweghe
- Egon Vandeweghe
Crawling back further up the family tree, my grandfather’s brothers, Antoine and Albéric Maes, could in principle have passed on the name. Antoine, however, got only girls. Albéric did have two sons, and the name continued with one grandson. However, this Dominique Maes died childless in Ploegsteert in 2017. My grandfather’s other brothers, Victor and Georges, remained childless. And so we come to the end of the Maes family line.
Looking again at our ancestor Petrus Maes, there are a few more Maes’s who may have continued the name.
These include the sons of Petrus Maes:
The grandsons of Petrus Maes:
The great-grandsons of Petrus Maes:
- Jean-Baptiste Maes (b. 1767)
- Joseph Maes (b. 1768)
- Martinus Josephus Maes (b.1773)
- Joannes Baptista Maes III (b. 1771)
- Petrus Joannes Maes (b. 1773)
- Bernardus Franciscus Maes (b. 1787)
So there is still potential to investigate the continuation of the Maes name using the parentage of Petrus Maes, but I will leave that to others. Maybe you?
Herewith we are at the provisional end of our journey to the 17th to the 21st century and back, from Sint-Denijs over to Zwevegem and then Wytschaete, to the diaspora of the Maes family line across Belgium and partly France. Digging out and describing this family history was a joy and felt like a trip on the time machine. I hope that in reading this “long read” you recognized this feeling a bit.
- Archives départementales du Nord
- The image database of Zwevegem
- Geneanet, Origin of surnames
- Geopunt, Fricx map (1712) Sint-Denijs – Zwevegem
- Geopoint, Ferraris map (1777) Zwevegem
- Geopunt, Topographic map Vandermaelen (1846-1854)
- Local Heritage Inventory, St. Denis
- Local Heritage Inventory, Wytschaete
- Local Heritage Inventory, Zwevegem
- Historical Newspapers, De Grensgalm (1895-1904) | October 26, 1895 | page 2
- Historical Newspapers, Journal d’Ypres (1874-1913) | October 12, 1895 | page 3
- Historical Newspapers, Nieuwsblad van Yperen en van het Arrondissement (1872-1912) | 1872 | February 10, 1872 | page 2
- Maes G., La Saga des Maes de Wijtschate (1988).
- ODIS, Congregation of the Maricoles Sisters, Staden (1844- )
- State Archives, Parish Registers and Civil Registry.
- Stabel, Family Names
- Vermote T., Four years of ‘Volontaire de guerre’ – The war experiences of Antoine Maes (2017)
- Wikipedia, Second battle of Messines